Sonos, one year in… post one of two

I suppose this starts with the scale of system you want.  Sonos, as a kit, can allow you to hide all the amps, the wires, while even your speakers can become invisible; see the Amina branded by Triad “DesignerSeries” in walls (as hidden by plaster skim coat).  The trade off, like many things, is flexibility of the system and certainly its future upgradability.  The strength of the Sonos, as most people will tell you, is the software controller. It is available for nearly every platform, mobile and desktop.  The Sonos units tap into to countless internet streaming music services as well as your locally (or cloud) stored music library.  The controller app is built for humans and allows seamless multi-room/multi-zone control.

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I received a Sonos Play:3 kit with wired to wireless Sonos Bridge for work rendered last year and also got a used Sonos ZonePlayer 80.  My tower speakers in the living room are old Advent Heritages.  I bought a used pair of 100 watt AudioSource monoblocks at some point on eBay  (replacing the 1979 Denon PMA 850 that finally stopped working).  In my office I ended up with a pair of Pioneer SP-BS41-LR’s that a friend didn’t want and an Emotiva mini-X a-100 50 Watt ‘Stereo Flex Amp’.  I took the spare RCA output of the external DAC that lives next to the ZP80 in the livingroom and sent it to the Emotiva in the office.  The Play:3 lives in the upstairs bedroom.

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I’ll start this by saying, for most people looking for kitchen or small room audio, the Play:3 and the newer and more compact Play:1 represent exceptional value.  This is of course not “architectural audio” with invisible plastered speakers, or even in-wall (grilled) speakers; rather the Play:1 and Play:3 are small powered speakers that sit on a shelf or desktop, sound good and happen to look nice as a bonus.  The price points of the Play:1 & 3 represent the “blue ocean”; people simply want to listen to their music collections or to Pandora, TuneIn Radio & Spotify (and literally dozens of other streaming services) – but control it easily from an application on their phone or tablet.  There will be those who argue the $200-300 is a lot to pay for a small powered speaker, but there is nothing else out there that does it quite as easily and elegantly as Sonos.

For bigger rooms that don’t have a television or projector the Play:3’s can be setup in software as a “stereo pair” giving an even larger sound stage.   Granted for most kitchens, bedrooms and bathrooms a pair of powered speakers may be overkill (and/or examples of where you’d rather not see the speakers).  For users with existing audio setups the ZonePlayer 80 (now called Sonos Connect) has two digital audio outs (SPDIF Coax & Toslink) and a pair of RCA stereo outputs and inputs.  If you already own speakers you want to power, the Sonos Connect:Amp adds in a high-efficiency Tripath  (Class T/D) 55-watts per channel amplifier to the Connect (taking away the RCA stereo output jacks but adding a single RCA mono-subwoofer LFE output).

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In the next post of this series I’ll go into why using the Sonos system is a pleasure and what I’ve done to get the most out of it (including the local  Mac Mini audio server) and my thoughts after a year of usage.

Fixing LadioCast crashes & 10.9 SSH issues…

Had some issues when scripting LadioCast broadcasts, started to cause it to crash repeatedly.  The .plist file to delete is com.kawauso.LadioCast.plist from the Library.  Should return the application to defaults.  There was an update to the application in October, so it’s possible this error handling behavior was fixed, but uninstalls did not appear to delete the .plist.

Also, updated to 10.9 “Mavericks” on the server and pretty much all SSH functions stopped working.  Briefly got them working again, but so far it’s been a bust.  Will back update to 10.8 with a fresh re-install.   This machine was an upgrade from 10.6 to 10.8 to 10.9, so it’s possible in all of this OpenSSH failed, but regardless a lot of users have had issues with SSH and 10.9.  An alternative is to run a standalone Linux server or something like a Synology NAS.  Seemingly more reliable those.

Event Handler Script for LadioCast

Added this AppleScript to LadioCast to update from Spotify Radio to Sonos with proper track metadata when on local radio:

set lastName to “”
set lastArtist to “”
set lastAlbum to “”
repeat
tell application “Spotify”
set trackName to name of current track
set trackArtist to artist of current track
set trackAlbum to album of current track
end tell
if trackName is not lastName and trackArtist is not lastArtist and trackAlbum is not lastAlbum then
set lastName to trackName
set lastArtist to trackArtist
set lastAlbum to trackAlbum
tell application “LadioCast”
set metadata song to trackName & ” – ” & trackArtist & ” – ” & trackAlbum
end tell
end if
delay 15
end repeat

Seems to work. In LadioCast you can choose this saved script to run as an “event handler” when playing your Icecast stream. One field from Sonos “TuneIn Radio” that I still haven’t been able to propagate is “On Now” but the track metadata shows up correctly under “Information” and Sonos updates each track via Growl.

Avoiding the analog: Icecast2 for OS X, Sonos & Spotify Radio

Apparently, Spotify has finally released their Radio API to certain content management platforms, but until it’s built into Sonos the only way to actually get Spotify Radio on my ZP80 was to use the analog line-in.  What about creating an Icecast (Shoutcast, Podcast, etc.) local radio station that I tune in to on the Sonos locally? This would then avoid the analog hole (until I add a phonograph line stage).

There were a few sources I had to use to make this work, and I’ve only built/tested this under 32 bit 10.6.8 Snow Leopard (so your mileage may vary for 64 bit and/or more modern OS X machines).  Joao Ricardo’s blog post of  “Icecast Radio in Mac OS X” turns out to be a great starting point.  Note, that he recommends installing MacPorts, which may not strictly be necessary if you have Homebrew already installed.  I have not tried to port Icecast via Homebrew, but I imagine the installation would also work, as others have had success.   For example, here’s Josh Dzielak’s tutorial for Icecast & Darkice using Mountain Lion and Homebrew

So yes, per Joao’s instructions:

1) Install MacPorts (note: there are several dependencies, read up before you even install MacPorts)

2) In Terminal$: sudo port install icecast2

  • If doing Homebrew$: brew install icecast
  • Icecast vs. Icecast2?  I don’t know. You tell me internet, you tell me.
  • This took like 30 minutes using MacPorts on an old 32 bit Intel machine

3) Install Ladiocast.

4) Install Soundflower.

  • Reboot machine.

5) Make sure your admin/user has access/rights to “icecast -c /usr/etc/icecast.xml” as well as wherever an error for Icecast’s “access.log” and “error.log” files.  In my case they needed to added to /opt/local/etc.  You’ll need to adjust access with “chmod 755″ in this example.

6) Start playing some music on your Icecast server machine.  In OS X “Sound Preferences” make sure “Soundflower 2ch” is set as the “output device”; you can also “option + click” on the volume in the at the top right menu and select the source.

7) From Terminal$: icecast -c /usr/etc/icecast.xml

  • At this point Terminal will need to be open, obviously you can set this up as a background process, run on startup, etc. see Josh’s article linked above.

8) From within Ladiocast choose “Soundflower 2ch” as your source, click on the “main” button in Ladiocast.  You should see music bars making music.

  • From the menu in Ladiocast click on “Streamer 1” choose Icecast.  Set 127.0.0.1:8000 or whatever you machine’s IP is for the server.  The default user and pw is located the XML file.
  • For encoding, especially to work with iTunes and probably Sonos, I set it to AAC 320 kbps.  Ogg may in fact work with Sonos, I’ve not tried it.
  • Click “Connect” at the bottom there.

9) In a web browser, type in the IP for the Icecast server.  If said machine is localhost use 127.0.0.1:8000 which is the default port for the service. Click on the .m3u link and open in iTunes/Winamp or similar.  If you have music bars making music and you have a .m3u created you should hear music (double check OGG vs. AAC).

10) Final step: open the desktop Sonos App. Click “Manage” from the menu bar and then “Add Radio Station” and the enter http://127.0.0.1:8000/stream.m3u (or whatever your IP is for the Icecast machine).  Create that as a favorite radio station.

11) Works for me.  If you want an Icecast radio station globally on WAN, well, poke those holes. Google a bit.  That’s not this blog entry.  Let’s hope Sonos adds Spotify Radio sooner than later.

 

Moderate upgrades…

Finally got around to soldering some 1/4″ TRS jacks onto a pair of XLR cables I had.  In case you’re curious what the wiring for XLR (differential) mono cables (not for microphones), the 3 pin XLR breaks down as such:

Pin 1: Ground (⏚) Sleeve, Pin 2: Postive (+) Tip, Pin 3: Negative (-) Ring.

Good information on soldering audio cables of all types here:
http://www.hometheatershack.com/forums/remotes-cables-accessories-tweaks/13000-how-solder-illustrated-diy-guide-making-your-own-cables-2.html

The EMU-0404 USB into the AudioSource 5.1a’s sounds a modicum cleaner, definitely driving now at lower levels. Probably not worth the effort but what the hell, I was curious and I had the TRS plugs sitting idle along with some old XLR cables.

XLR (male) to TRS 1/4" (male) diagram pinout

XLR (male) to TRS 1/4″ (male) diagram pinout

XLR M-F Pin Out

XLR M-F Pin Out

1/4" TRS Diagram

1/4″ TRS Diagram

EMU 0404 USB driver finally updates….

I’ve never been displeased with the price performance of the Creative/E-MU 0404 USB 2.0 [DAC] MIDI audio interface, but seeing as how I mostly use it for music listening I’m not super reliant on the latest and greatest drivers, it’s worked fine with OS X.

From past experience, I know configuring just about any USB audio interface in Windows XP was a headache, and I am told Vista/Win7 fixes some of the audio path issues. But I don’t run Windows 7. I have 10.6.8 on my systems now, the Mini is the main playback hub. The E-MU drivers for it were old, think Rosetta, possibly PowerPC binaries, as in old, but they worked. And despite being capable, Creative/E-MU has never enabled 24 bit 192KHz playback with the 0404 USB under OS X. I’m sure it’s possible. This is all to say, when I updated to the latest drivers for 32/64 bit Snow Leopard / Lion compatibility I just wanted to make sure it didn’t break anything, if it sounds better, great, so long as it doesn’t break functionality.

Here’s a link to the October 14, 2011 64 bit Lion driver download page: http://support.creative.com/downloads/download.aspx?nDownloadId=12115

I can’t hear any difference but it didn’t seem to break anything. Still no 192KHz up-sampling option.

On a side note, C says it’s not worth it yet to sync all the songs to the cloud, too much lag, in which case I need to upgrade to a 1TB 9.5mm 2.5″ SATA drive in the Mini, as I’m running low on space. I like having most albums at 16bit/44.1KHz lossless audio, and I occasionally buy CD’s and rip it to such. For streaming over the cloud 320kbps .mp3/aac seems to be standard. At $5/mo Spotify doesn’t sound very good, comparatively, $10/mo apparently bumps the streaming quality. At home FLAC/Apple Lossless sounds better, for sure.

Before & After Stereo Racking

Z & I built a new stereo rack out of the old record stand.  I reused as much wood as possible.  As a first build it’s fine.  If I were to do it again I’d probably try and figure out some way to put a hidden channel down the middle for all the cables and obviously hide the access holes behind the devices better.  I got a little crazy with my 1″ hole bit.  Also, the LG Optimus doesn’t take very good photos.  But I think the rack looks alright for no money.

Before

Before

After

After

And more…

Another project we knocked off the list this week was soldering the correct DC coaxial tip onto an old Iomega Zip Drive (120AC to 5VDC) linear power supply. From what I read online this was the best value to upgrade the cheap switching mode power supply that comes with the E-MU 0404 USB sound card; I found one in NJ on eBay for $8 shipped.

Another fix was for the 8 AWG stranded copper speaker wire I bought a few years ago (which never fit my amp or speaker inputs) but last week I found some banana plugs that fit just fine. And now there appears to be more bass going on.

Iomega Zip Drive 5VDC

Iomega Zip Drive 5VDC (upgrad3!)

Dayton Audio BAGS-G

Dayton Audio BAGS-G (8 AWG!)

SoundCloud HTML5 finally works, mostly

This post, with many linkbacks to other posts (dee3’s), shows how to embed SoundCloud’s Flash player and allow an HTML5 mini player as a fallback for iOS, using the <audio> tag: http://soundcloud.com/101/html5-embed

The only step that was a little bit tricky was figuring out how to view the cache window and see where the stream was pointing to for the HTML5 portion of the code. In Google Chrome (12.x) I found it easiest to flush the past hour of browsing history and then load the SoundCloud player and see where it pointed to the audio stream, typing About:Cache in the location bar. Anyhow, if you view my last post about Borg & McEnroe using an iOS device there should be a small audio player below the YouTube clip. Amazingly, it’ll even let you stream that clip over AirPlay.

So that’s kind of cool. If that’s what you’re into.

Here’s Four Tet’s track Pinnacles:


Link: http://snd.sc/hbo2eT

Eye Oh-Ess Four Point Two

A classmate of Z’s mentioned that the iOS 4.2 update was a worthy upgrade specifically for its ability to stream audio to Airport Express Base Stations (from your iDevice). Of course I didn’t really believe him, you know, because I already have a Mac Mini server and I can stream via iTunes from my laptop.

Sure enough, after I updated to 4.2 on the iPod Touch I’ve enjoying the streaming feature, though it depends on your setup. My old amp, a late 70’s Denon PMA-850 started blowing fuses and I was bequeathed a functioning 90’s Denon AVR-610 (I believe the rear channel outputs are bad but using “bypass pre” the main L+R channels sound good). I’ve been slow to build the LM4780 Chipamp and it was terrible not having music in the living room. Per wireless, we have an older Time Capsule that isn’t dual band (I keep it at 5GHz 802.11n) so I have an 802.11g/n Airport Express on 2.4GHz bridged to give my iPod touch wireless access and “AirTunes”.

But how does it sound? Well it works like a champ. Initially I tried using the digital optical out of the AE and I was disappointed with sync and jitter issues. It sounds pretty good, but being streamed wirelessly (.mp3, compressed AAC) from the iPod Touch over 802.11g doesn’t sound nearly as good as lossless audio from the Mac Mini into the DAC and the receiver (100% wire). However, the convenience factor of being able to pick and choose music from the iPod Touch without having to deal with the server/player is huge. The Mini or a dedicated audio server (or using Amazon S3 for cloud based music storage) gives you a much greater capacity, but again it’s the convenience factor; I appreciate that I don’t have to turn on the Mini. The Denon AVR-610 has an IR remote so once I click ‘power’, bingo bango, I’ve got music.

Compared to using iTunes (or something like Sonos or Logitech’s Slim Server) you can only stream from one iOS device to one AE Base Station at a time. And unlike Sonos you cannot have different music streams going to different rooms of the house at once. Within iTunes, when you select multiple “AirPlay” channels each room hears identical streams.

Being a “free” upgrade (to 3rd & 4th gen iPod touches and newer iPhones) iOS 4.2 is an easy recommendation, especially for those who own AE Base Stations connected to their stereos.

iOS 4.2 Audio Streaming

iOS 4.2 Audio Streaming

Advent Heritage Mods, a Guest Post from Australia

I received an email from David Hughes of Adelaide, Australia concerning his modifications to his Advent Heritage speakers and he’s graciously allowed me to post his story and construction details below:

Advents with TangBand W8 1772 & North Creek D28

David's Tri-Amped, Three way ported Advent Heritage



A Little History

I bought my Advents new in Perth (Western Australia) around 1987 I think. A few years later I moved to Queensland and shortly after that I took them to Papua New Guinea with me. Two years ago I moved to Adelaide in South Australia. If speakers could earn Frequent Flier points I could get upgraded to business class every time I fly.

My drivers suffered the same fate as yours. One day I noticed some quite bad distortion in the bottom end and when I took the grills off I noticed the foam surrounds were falling apart. At that point I noticed the small pieces of foam on the carpet. I am not sure how long a foam surround should last but I think if you live in the tropics you can divide the most optimistic life expectancy in half. On my next trip to Australia I bought four 8” poly cone drivers. I think they were a badged Dayton driver. I put them in and they sounded much better than I expected. Next to go, a couple of years later, was a tweeter. Then I bought a pair of Vifa D25 units and juxtaposed them in place of the originals. Again, the results were passable but I started using them less and less. Finally I built a pair of ESL III from E&R Audio in Perth and switched off the Advents until just about two months ago.

Flashback

About 5 years ago I decided to get a bit more serious about speaker design and bought a few software and hardware tools in an attempt to improve my success rate. I also started experimenting with open baffle systems and collecting all kinds of drivers for future projects. One of those drivers is the TangBand W8 1772. It is a full range driver which gives the best Scandinavian units a run for their money. I decided to put them in the Advent boxes. Once the original drivers have rotted out of your Advents the only good thing you can say about them is that they look nice in a sitting room. It was for this reason that I decided to rebuild them. It is of course much easier to build a completely new box.

I also decided to build them with as much flexibility as possible. The TangBand 1772 has reasonably good bass for a full range driver if put in a vented box, but I wanted to put it in sealed acoustic suspension type box. For that reason I decided to add a woofer (not a subwoofer), a Seas P21RF/P H511-08. I also decided to add a tweeter so that I wouldn’t have a gaping hole or blanking plate in upper tower. The tweeter is a North Creek D28-06S, it’s a 28mm silk dome. Probably the best tweeter made in the US in my opinion, but no longer available. I had new aluminium face-plates made by a local laser cutting company to mount the tweeters into the rectangular opening in the Advent boxes.

The end result is a system that can be configured in four different ways:

  1. A single full range driver
  2. Full range with tweeter to extend the top end
  3. Full range with vented woofer to extend the bottom end
  4. A three way system
Two separate volumes

Two volumes, ported lower chamber

To get the two 8” drivers into two different types of cabinet (vented and sealed) I had to divide the space in two, and the only place to do this is right between the drivers. This left two unequal volumes. The upper section was around 22 Litres and the lower volume was 29 Litres. So the upper one was too big and the lower one too small. Too big is easily solved by creating an internal volume for the tweeter. I designed the tweeter space to leave a volume of about 16.5 Litres which is exactly what I wanted. The bottom driver needed about 35 Litres so I extended the internal walls to meet the volume requirements.

Reducing upper volume, separate tweeter box

Reduction in upper volume with separate tweeter chamber

The original cabinets are mostly made of 16mm particle board (chip board) which was inadequate when they were originally built and after 20 years of use they were starting to show the typical problem of breaking down in its inner core due to constant micro vibrations caused when playing music. Lets face it, they were built to a price. Had they had internal bracing they might last forever. I decided to line mine with 12mm MDF. This has two major advantages. Firstly you are reinforcing the walls which are now 28mm thick, and secondly, by using two materials of differing density you are actually creating a better damped material than building a new cabinet from MDF alone. That’s the theory anyway. The pictures should fill in any gaps above.

Internal braced view with vent

Lower volume with bracing

I won’t be putting spikes on mine. It all depends on your type of floor. In my opinion spikes are only useful if you have wall to wall carpet on a traditional timber floor. If you have tiles, spikes will mark them and you are likely to end up with a cabinet that vibrates slightly on the hard surface. You would be better off to glue a speaker to tiles.:) Spikes on bare boards do exactly the same and scratch the timber, and spikes in little cups which stop the scratching defeat the whole purpose of using spikes in the first place. You will probably have orders of magnitude more bass colouration from the room dimensions.

My crossover is a DEQX PDC 2.6HD. Invented in Australia. It’s a DSP based crossover with quite comprehensive capabilities. Best you go to www.deqx.com to read all about it. I feed it into three NAD 272 power amps. I will probably sell these soon because I have discovered over the years that they are not well suited to low impedance loads and some of my speakers drop below 2ohms at some frequencies. This causes the NAD protection circuitry to switch off the amp. Very annoying to say the least. I will be going to Chip Amps myself in due course. When paralleled they can easily handle loads down to almost 1ohm, and most of my systems are sufficiently efficient to be driven well by 20watts. I am thinking about Audio Sector’s LM4780 kit. I will probably build a 6 channel amp. However I also have the boards from a couple of QUAD 405c II amps which I will use to drive the subs I am building. They are 12” Peerless XLS drivers in acoustic suspension cabinets using a Linkwitz transform configured in the DEQX crossover.

DEQX PDC-2.6 HD Preamp Processor

DEQX PDC-2.6 HD Preamp Processor

How do they sound?

According to me, they are fantastic :). Actually I have only tried them in Bi amp configuration so far because I haven’t made enough speaker cables yet. Any opinion I have is of course coloured by my own genius. But I think they are quite nice. As a full range driver they are truly excellent for acoustic music like James Taylor, orchestral, and unplugged. With the bass extension they sound great on Yes, The Who and Zeppelin. I should add, don’t bother with good speakers if you listen to over mixed studio bands like The Police, Steely Dan, or The Grateful Dead. Their live albums might sound a bit better. Using the full range and tweeter together is a very nice configuration. I have them crossed over at 8KHz using the tweeter to smooth out the full range driver’s top end.

Right now the drivers are all out while I attend to the cosmetic finish. I decided not to sand back all the little dints, preferring the old patina to an as-new appearance. I gave them a coat of Australian made Scandinavian furniture oil last night and will give them another coat in a day or two.

Fronts with lower vent

Cabinets minus drivers

That’s it. Other speakers around here include QUAD ESL 57s, Azurahorn front loaded 160Hz horns azurahorn.com, my own subs which are almost finished, and a couple of open baffle systems of my own design. The only other unusual thing I have in mind is a re-creation of the AR MST. I have bought all the tweeters and a pair of Seas woofers for the project, just need to finish a few other projects first. I almost bought a pair in the early seventies but bought B&W DM2As instead.

Ahurahorn & XLS during development

Azurahorn & XLS

Finally

With hindsight, it would have been much easier to build new cabinets. Maybe just cut the front baffle off the Advents and glue it to the front of a new box for a 40mm thick front baffle, can’t do any harm.

All the best.
David Hughes

P.S. For a DSP cross-over, look at minidsp.com, I may get one of these in the future.

Goodbye Comet

I returned the T-Mobile Comet and exchanged it for a cheap candy bar style Nokia prepaid phone. Android 2.2, on the Comet, simply required too much work. Skype was nearly unusable. The Gmail native app from Google had to be updated, and even then the sync functionality with Gmail didn’t work correctly. Let me re-state that: Gmail didn’t work correctly on a Google phone. Thankfully contacts synced fine, but I had to update nearly every app that came with the phone.

So, maybe it’s something to do with Huwaei and the T-Mobile build of Froyo 2.2 or perhaps things simply aren’t as polished across the board. Compared to my experiences with iOS 3.x and 4.x I’d say it’s like night and day. Yes, it’d be nice to have a bulk task manager (other than double clicking ‘home’) in iOS 4.2, but it doesn’t really make a difference, you can run 20 apps “backgrounded”. In Android you absolutely must use a task killer or your phone runs out of memory and turns to molasses. Multitasking in iOS simply works and is more intuitive. Skype works nearly as well as a native phone dialer, Netflix streams terrifically, and the bundled iOS apps are all winners. And with the 4.2 update I can stream audio to the Airport Express directly from the iPod Touch and wirelessly print. At no point using Android did I think to myself, ‘Man this is so much easier/quicker/better than the iPod Touch’, in fact I lamented that for $180, despite being the cheapest Android phone on the market, it just wasn’t very good.

It’s unfortunate, in my limited usage of WebOS I’d say that Palm had a superior product that was poorly marketed, that suffered early quality control issues, and with HP’s purchase, has essentially died a premature death. Compared to Android 2.2 – WebOS 1.x feels significantly more polished – and really should be second to Apple in smart phone market share. When you go to the Verizon store and look at the myriad Android phones (several now bundled with Bing! as default search engine) it becomes clear that the carriers and Google simply don’t care about the user’s experience. While I’m sure the newest Nexus S is a better example of what Android can do, I don’t trust telecommunication companies to make good UID & IxD decisions.

LM4780 Balanced Dual Mono-Block Amps

Bought the dual mono LM4780 kit from Peter Daniels’ @AudioSector.com and received it in the mail the other day. I’m excited, because the National Semiconductors’ LM4780 chip package allows for easy implementation of a bridged/balanced configuration of differential (e.g. balanced XLR/TRS) inputs from professional level sources. Most “pro” grade equipment uses XLR as it allows for longer cable runs and provides a greater degree of noise and signal interference rejection.

On my EMU 0404 USB DAC I’m forced to “balun” from the TRS output into the Denon PMA-850’s RCA line input (note: in this configuration I’m using the EMU 0404 as a pre-amp as well). Sadly the PMA-850 has been blowing fuses and has started to sound muddy and as much as I’d like to pull it apart it’s full of 1970s Japanese solid state circuit technology that I wouldn’t feel comfortable playing with. The LM1875/LM3886 & LM4780 [etc] packages (aka Gainclones or Chip Amps) have a really simple circuit topology and as a result have become really quite popular over the past decade in the DIY audio community.

So I’m excited to finally do some soldering and enclosure design for this kit. Also, I was able to breadboard a slightly better power supply circuit for the EMU 0404 using a LM317 chip; I have a decent 7.5V DC 2A wall wart that I could use to feed the LM317 and then down-regulate to 5V DC 1A for cleaner audio. In my tests, using a bank of D alkaline batteries, there was a definite increase in clarity. My one concern with the EMU 0404 is whether the USB is galvanically/transformer isolated from the line outputs, as I’m sure the USB out of the Mac Mini server is not great for noise. Again, in my limited tests, the external linear regulated LM317 power supply using both USB and Toslink SPDIF inputs improved bass and high-end clarity.

Also, I’ll probably be adding some speaker toe spikes to the old Advent Heritage tower speakers. I found some cheap ones @Parts-Express, $0.48 each. Not bad.

Sam Catch's Gainclone build, Back - on Flickr

“Gainclone build BACK” by Sam_catch, on Flickr (CC License)

lm1875set4 by Nonexistence, on Flickr

“lm1875set4” by Nonexistence, on Flickr

Stabilizing Spheres & Unflappable Flappers

Sometimes you need to isolate your holographic lasers from vibration or perhaps just your AC transformers and tubes on your home audio equipment.  In either case, these Norborene (“Norsorex“) Stabilizing Spheres, also known as the “Happy Unhappy  Balls“, are a fantastic deal.  For $35 you get a package of 15 and if you cut them in halves that makes 30 hemispherical feet (that’s maths).

Norbornene Stabilizing Spheres

Norbornene Stabilizing Spheres

On a related note, still having to do with polymers and rubber, one of our toilet tanks had a fiddly flapper, I think this is the technical term, where you’d have to jiggle the handle to stop the tank from running. The solution was a “Korky Plus Premium Universal Flapper” and it works like a champion.

Korky Plus Universal Flapper

Korky Plus Universal Flapper

Automated Ripping Potential & that Vintage USB Typewriter

Went to Hive 76 for their open house night on Wednesday to check out the space.  While I was there Jack Zylkin demoed his very cool Arduino based vintage typewriter > USB Keyboard hack, and it’s actually quite ingenious and cool.  There are contact relays underneath the main typewriter carriage and he uses magnets for other registers and the Arduino chip figures out the characters pressed based on time delay.  And he’s made the plans available for ‘from scratch’ DIY types under a Creative Commons license.  & who doesn’t want to carry around a 50 pound vintage type writer with their iPad?  Jack’s website is usbtypewriter.com and his Etsy page [here].

Another sweet item I saw at Hive 76 was an older Sony Vaio automated DVD changer that connects via 1394 (FireWire 400).  Supposedly, using DBPowerAmp and some basic scripts it is possible to batch rip up to 200 CD’s at a time into .flac image files with good metadata and .cue sheets.  Alex Wetmore wrote several years ago, and I’m paraphrasing his sentiment here, that he had better things he’d like to do with his day, like go on bicycle rides, because the fact is that he is not a CD changer.

So the general idea is you use one of these big Sony Vaio XL1B* changers, load it up with your music, walk away from it for about 24 hours and when you come back hopefully you’ve got a hard drive full of music in a format that is future proof.  If I can actually get this to work it would be a beautiful thing, and Brendan said it was good go.

Sony VAIO XL1B* Series 200 Disc Changer

Sony VAIO XL1B* Series 200 Disc Changer

Mass .flac to Apple Lossless (ALAC .m4a) conversion

I have a couple posts going on the back burner, namely the re-foaming process on the 8″ woofer drivers from the Advent Heritage speakers I found in Greenpoint and the Mac Mini media server setup we have going now.  But first, say you want to convert all the albums you ripped to FLAC to Apple Lossless (.m4a) under OS X.  You want to know what’s easiest and quickest for batch conversion?

The X Lossless Decoder (see: XLD) is one very good option for OS X.  I find generally his application works best decoding full album single file rips from EAC with .cue sheets.  Usually with EAC you’d have three files, the .log, the .cue and the full album .flac file, XLD will nicely split the .flac into .m4a (Apple Lossless) individual files with little effort.

For larger batches, and because I used Stephen Booth’s “Max” for a lot of ripping, I find batch processing of tags and mass conversion a bit easier.  Where XLD is good on an album by album basis I found that Max was very good for converting whole directories of individual artists with multiple albums.  I find that I’m often fixing tags first in Max and then again in iTunes and then the last step is usually confirming the album art for use with Cover Flow.  It takes probably 5-10 minutes per album and it’d be faster if I had uniformity in my ripping standards.

I think ultimately, as an archive, using EAC and backing up to an image (.flac, .cue & .log) makes the most sense (but takes the longest). For playback and ease of use, unless you’re really crazy about bit perfection, I think the sound quality with Apple Lossless (.m4a) and iTunes is perfectly acceptable, especially with a halfway decent external DAC.  I’ve been using the Mac Mini as our A/V front end and the Apple Remote application for the iPod Touch works very well (over wifi)  allowing me to control iTunes on the Mini.

X Lossless Decoder (XLD)

X Lossless Decoder (XLD)

Stephen Booth's "Max"

Stephen Booth's "Max"

Advent Heritage Speakers

In what was probably the best street find of the year I found a pair these Advent Heritage towers, in decent shape.  The 8″ woofers need to be re-foamed. When I lived in DC I found a pair of old AR’s speakers on Capitol Hill  that had the same issue, anyhow, re-foaming doesn’t seem too difficult.

The Advent Heritage towers are about the equivalent of $1000 speakers in 2009 dollars.  They have a pecan wood top and front panel while the main paneling is sealed heavy MDF.  These things are solid and well made.  And amazingly, when I plugged one of them in, it worked fine and sounded good. Way better than the old Bose speakers we’d been using.  Zoe even remarked, “Huh, that does sound a lot clearer”.  The mids and the highs are much better and still not too much bass, which is good in an apartment building.

Below is the image of what is in our apartment now.  The Bose will be going into storage.

Advent Heritage Tower Speaker
Advent Heritage Tower Speaker